By Carla Zanoni, Paul Lomax and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — An army of cops swooped in on a Washington Heights building Monday night amid a hunt for a prolific neighhborhood burglar who uses Vaseline to cover his tracks after a prowler was spotted scaling scaffolding and breaking into an apartment there.
But sources said that the 29-year-old man taken into custody on West 187th Street around 8 p.m. — watching TV and then pretending to be asleep in the victim's apartment — was not a suspect in the unusual pattern of more than a dozen break-ins in Washington Heights and Inwood beginning last September.
In the unusual series of break-ins, in which electronics, jewelry and cash were taken, the suspect smears petroleum jelly on the peepholes of his victims' neighbors doors in order to prevent them from getting a good look at him.
According to the sources, no Vaseline was found in the building and the M.O. of the suspect did not match that of the prolific thief, who generally busted into the apartments through the front door.
The suspect captured Monday night is also significantly younger than the one wanted for the Vaseline burglaries, who is 50-60 years old and carries a cane.
The building's super, who did not want to be named, said that he was in his kitchen, getting something to eat when he spotted the suspect on the building's scaffolding.
"I saw a guy jump up on the scaffolding and head towards an apartment window," he said. "I called 911 and the NYPD were here in five minutes."
After cops arrived, he tried to call the victim's son, who lives in the building, as the officers kept an eye on the suspect, who was watching TV, he told DNAinfo.
About a half hour later, he got word that the victim was out of town, and the cops moved in.
Officers told the super that the suspect tried to play it off as if he lived there.
"What is all this noise about," he said, according to the super. "I was trying to sleep."
The swarm of cops who jammed the hallway of the building, near Cabrini Boulevard, left residents terrified.
"It was real scary," said a resident, Susan, who lives next door to the apartment where the suspect was found.
"I heard all this noise outside and the next thing I know is that the police are knocking on my door. They were all dressed in riot gear with helmets, shields and had dogs with them.
"Then they went through to my kitchen so they could crawl outside to stop him escaping my neighbor's apartment. The whole second floor floor was packed with police."
Charges were pending against the suspect, who is from Harlem.
Sources said that investigators are testing the petroleum jelly samples that were left at previous Vaseline burglar crime scenes for DNA evidence.
They are also testing a bottle of Courvoisier cognac that he may have sipped from during a heist, according to the New York Times.
"This is a very unusual M.O.," Deputy Inspector Barry Buzzetti said of the Vaseline bandit.
Additional reporting by Lisa Marsh